Romans 15 – The Responsibility of the Strong

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Read the rest of the chapter, here!)

Major takeaways from Romans

This is the second-to-last chapter in Romans, with the last one being mostly greetings and salutations.  It seems fitting to try and tie it all together, so I went back and read Romans again as well as what I had written about in previous chapters.  I write slow, so I’ve been at Romans for a month and a half, which means a lot happened between then and now.  And I made some truly eye-opening discoveries along the way.  Perhaps most paradigm shifting, for me, was discovering the difference in translation between “Faith of Jesus Christ” instead of “Faith in Jesus Christ,” which opens the door to universal reconciliation as well as putting a whole new, joyous meaning on Jesus’ death and resurrection.  (You can read about it in my post on Romans 03,  You Are Holy.)

But as a mother and a farmer,  I am forced into practicality above all else, and my instinct is to leave Romans with actionable points for myself and for you, dear reader.  As such, I would say my biggest actionable takeaway from Romans is this: it is the responsibility of the strong to enact justice and peace for the weak.  Paul talks about this mostly in terms of Jewish and Gentile groups, because that was the major distinguishing factor of this new Jesus-following movement he was fostering at the time.  But it can apply today to so many dichotomies of power: white and black, male and female, corporate and ecological even.

What positions of power do you hold?  You may be surprised.  You can use these positions to amplify your message.  (Not sure what positions of power you hold? This post is a great reminder of ways you are influential in both personal and public life.)  And what message, exactly, should we be amplifying? Inclusion, stewardship, and of course, love.  This will take many forms, but all of them require at least a modicum of effort.

#wetsuwetenstrong

It can start small.  In fact, I urge you to start small.  My specific challenge for you today is to donate $1 (or more if you can!) to the Wet’suwet’en.  The Wet’suwet’en are an indigenous peoples standing up to the Canadian goverment and mining/pipeline corporations that want to invade their unceded land.  They have managed to seriously disrupt trade in Canada (NOT because they are anarchists, but in a desperate effort to protect their home), yet it is getting very little media attention outside of Canada.  Twitter or Instagram, honestly, is the best place to get some information upon it.  The hashtags #wetsuwetenstrong or #shutcanadadown will get you on the right track.  I support them because they are doing important ecological work, and it’s also high time that governments stop bulldozing the wishes of the people over the wishes of big business.

The time for waiting is over.

Next week is the start of Lent with Ash Wednesday.  It is a time of self-reflection, restraint, and waiting.  But too many people have been forced to wait for too long.  Forced to wait for recognition, for justice, for basic human needs and quality of life.  We have no more time to wait on climate change.  And make no mistake, the evils in the world (whatever you perceive them to be) will not wait for us to catch up or catch our breath.  As this change in the season-both liturgical and seasonal-happens around us, I urge you to be active.  Look around you with open eyes at what needs to be changed, and what your role (however small) could be in implementing that change.  Over the next month or two, I’ll be reading about community activism and organizing, and sharing what I learn with you.  I hope that we can all learn something, but we don’t need to wait until then to start doing something now.  It is our responsibility. Let’s get out there.

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Romans 04 – Hope over Faith

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Read the rest of today’s chapter here!)

When faith may be too hard…

It is easy to get disheartened watching the news.  This is probably true at just about any point in history, but I’ve been really affected by it lately:  Mitch McConnell seems hell-bent on rendering the Constitution ineffective in an effort to keep white males in power. Singed koala bears make for a pitiful sight, and then I feel guilty about feeling bad for them before anything else because, yes, there are other problems not being talked about: like the impact those same fires have had on Australia’s indigenous people (a topic totally missing from any news story that I haven’t gone out searching for). A change of residence for Harry and Meghan seems to be the top story in the news cycle over deteriorating international relations and continuing impeachment developments. Yet who am I to judge, because I can’t stop thinking about Kanye and Kim’s walk-in fridge for a family of three – another story that has zero impact on my life but bothers the hell out of me for its sheer excess.

Last post I talked about how it was Jesus’ own faith that saved us, not our faith in Jesus.  When faced with such bleak realities as the ones above, it’s even easier to say “why have faith at all?”  My answer, after reading today’s chapter, is that maybe faith is the wrong word. Maybe we need to have hope.  Faith implies “complete trust and confidence in something.” Don’t get me wrong, having faith is good, but may not be something we are able to carry with us all the time.  Even the most devout have times of doubt, which, by definition, would mean that they lose faith – even if it is temporarily.  That can feel like a failure on the part of the believer and do some real mental damage.

…hope still may be achievable.

Hope, however, means “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  And it is not to be confused with optimism.  As N.T. Wright explains in his book Paul, “Hope could be, and often was, a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark.”  He was writing about ancient Jewish and early Christian history, but the same is true now: Hope must be a dogged and deliberate choice on our part.  Wright goes on to say, “You have to practice it, like a difficult piece on the violin or a tricky shot at tennis.  You practice the virtue of hope through worship and prayer, through invoking the One God, through reading and reimagining the scriptural story, and through consciously holding the unknown future within the unshakable divine promises.”

Who doesn’t wish for – hope for – a better world even in the darkest hours? Perhaps the darkest hours are when our desires are strongest, when our hope is strongest.  Our faith and optimism may be gone, but our deep yearning for a better world remains.  This hope is why we keep going to church, keep reading the Bible, keep praying to God.

I agree with Paul, that our righteousness (to use his word) will be attributed to us, especially when we continue to act when there seems to be no divine promise within eminent fulfillment.  Abraham had faith in God before his promise to be a father of many nations.  As I quoted Paul above, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations.”  If we, too, act in hope – hope that we can restore the ecology of Australia and truly the whole world, hope that justice will prevail in the American political system, hope that the fate of those in need will become more important than the address of one royal couple – then we, too, will be blessed by God.

Take Action.

Practically, this means getting out there and acting.  At least I think so.  Paul may disagree – as he spends a lot of this chapter discussing how works alone cannot prove a person’s righteousness.  However, I think that this criticism was more about a blind adherence to the law (whether secular or religious) to the detriment of acting out of love for your neighbor.  In other words, self-betterment over community-lifting.  Religion at large (and Christianity in particular) seems to have a certain propensity for navel-gazing to the point of ignoring the outside world burning down around it.  Self-reflection is good, but you can think a lot of things. Getting out there and doing them?  That truly reveals where your heart lies.

Let me qualify all of this by saying: start small, and don’t burn yourself out.  The world’s problems are huge and cannot be solved by one person, let alone one person in one day.  As a mother who suffers with a chronic condition that can cause overwhelming fatigue myself, I particularly want to reach out to those just struggling to get out of bed and make PB&J’s for their kids’ lunch: you’re doing more than enough already – I am not asking you to push yourself past your limits.

Now, that being said, everyone else look around you. Think of little ways you can act in hope.  My favorite, as always, is calling your representatives.  (Something I did on Tuesday, to urge Congress to do everything in it’s power to keep the US out of a war with Iran).  It just takes a few minutes.  If talking on the phone raises your anxiety, write them a letter or email- it’s not as immediate (since anthrax scares have become a thing letters take a few weeks to get through the security back-up, and there’s just so many emails it takes a while for staff to wade through them, too) but it still gets your voice heard.  Do a change dig (you’d be surprised how much is lurking in your car/purse/nightstand/junk drawer), take it to a Coinstar, and then donate that cash to any cause you deem worthy. It’s money you weren’t missing in the first place, and can make a huge difference for an organization doing good work.  My favorite local organizations that just about any community has are food pantries, the library, and the animal shelter.  Most take cash donations at the door.  Make extra of whatever you’re cooking for dinner, and take it to that neighbor or friend who has the sniffles.  These are little ways to act in hope that require very little work on our part, but can set us – and indeed the world – on the path to larger changes.

Hope isn’t easier than faith. It is a practice, a rigorous practice, to hope.  For many, this post may be all just about semantics, since faith is a rigorous practice, as well.  But if you struggle with keeping your faith in times of trouble, do not worry: you are not alone, and you are not a bad person for facing that struggle.  My hope is that you will keep your hope.  Even if your faith falters, you can still hope for a better world.  Even if your actions seem futile, you can still take those actions. To you, your righteousness will be credited, and the world you hope for, that we all hope for, will be one act of kindness closer.

Isaiah 62 – Conscious and Joyful Work

10 Pass through, pass through the gates!

    Prepare the way for the people.
Build up, build up the highway!
    Remove the stones.
Raise a banner for the nations. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

There is work to be done, and we are called to do it

I love this chapter.  I found it by Googling “Bible Passages for Christmas Eve.”  It’s so joyous, so regal: Perfect for the birth of the person we call our Lord and Savior.  I also like how grounded it is, despite all it’s jubilation: There is work to be done to prepare for this party, and this chapter recognizes that fact.

I’d like to compare and contrast this chapter to another passage we haven’t yet read in this blog, but one you are probably familiar with if you’re a regular church-goer or Bible reader:  the parable of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13.  In it, there are five wise bridesmaids, who keep the oil for their lamps full while waiting for the bridegroom – who was very late – to arrive.  The five foolish bridesmaids did not plan ahead. When they did not have enough oil for their lamps they had to go buy more, missing the entrance of the groom, and were unable to gain admittance to the party afterwards.  The message: making sure you are prepared at all times for (the return of) God.

In Isaiah 62, just as in Matthew 25, we are anticipating the start of a large celebration. But this is not just passive waiting, in both passages we are called to do the work of preparation. And there is much to be done.  In the Matthew 25 parable, that work is summed up in the keeping of the oil, but here, Isaiah is a little more elaborate: we must keep watch, as the bridesmaids did; but also pray – pray until God has no rest; we must prepare the way for the people, build up the highway, and raise a banner.  There is also reference to harvesting grain and gathering grapes. Now, I’m not a literalist: I don’t think there is a highway waiting to be built that will literally bring God down to us.  So, if it’s all a metaphor, what does it mean we need to do?

Spiritual Callings can be fulfilled in many ways

I think it means we need to be engaged in conscious and joyful work.  We need to find our callings, and follow them.  This is not career advice, necessarily, though good on you if you’re bringing home a paycheck in an area about which you’re passionate.  But it can be through other ways, too.  Take this blog, for instance: It’s something I was moved to do after witnessing too many self-professed Christians making excuses for Trump’s deplorable behavior towards women, espousing hateful Islamophobic rhetoric, and disowning children – literally abandoning them on the street – for coming out as gay.  That is not what Christianity is, and I felt I needed to add my voice to those counteracting the worst examples of so-called Christian morality.  Am I a full-time writer? I wish…maybe one day.  Am I a theologically trained clergyman? Definitely not, and unless I win the lottery and can go to seminary school just for kicks, that’s never going to happen.  But it is still a calling, it is still something I am committed to do.

Other people achieve this type of work by volunteering, some are activists, and others are just caring individuals who feel called to kindness and stewardship of those immediately surrounding them.  So like I said, this conscious and joyful work may not be your main hustle, but I think it is something we all need to find time for in our lives.  Finding a cause that is larger than ourselves creates new relationships with others, enriches us spiritually and socially, and reinforces the best parts of society through stewardship.  This is the type of work that will metaphorically build the highway for the return of Jesus.  So follow the advice of this chapter: keep watch through close observation: see what needs are out there, and what makes you passionate. Pray to God for guidance in these passions (it took me two years, a lot of self-doubt, and a lot of prayer to actually get around to starting this blog after my initial idea), then go forth, do the work, and raise that banner: proclaim it to the world.  This is not to be boastful, but to let others know where you stand, and to rally them to your cause. In doing so, we have already become “a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of our God,” one of the Holy People, the Redeemed, and the Sought After, fully ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the promise of the second coming of our Savior, and the reward that is with him.